November’s Psalm of the Month: 33

The eleventh installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal


The Lord by His word has created the heavens;
By breath of His mouth made the stars come to be.
The depths of the ocean He heaps up together,
And puts in a storehouse the waves of the sea.

Amidst a season of thanksgiving, this rousing new setting of Psalm 33, which the Psalter Hymnal Committees hybridized from the Scottish psalter Sing Psalms and The Book of Psalms for Worship, will reinvigorate you to give thanks for the abundant manifestations of the Lord’s steadfast love.

Even though the tune ASH GROVE does not appear in the blue Psalter Hymnal, it is well-known in connection with the Thanksgiving-time hymn “Let All Things Now Living” (#453 in the gray Psalter Hymnal). Frequent running lines throughout the vocal parts (especially the bass) impart this tune with an extraordinary sense of energy. Sing Psalm 33 at a rousing tempo fitting for its lively expressions of praise.

Suggested stanzas:

  • 11/1: stanzas 1,2
  • 11/8: stanzas 2,3
  • 11/15: stanzas 4,5
  • 11/22: all
  • 11/29: all

Source: stz. 1 adapted from Psalm 33 in Sing Psalms; stz. 2-5 from Psalm 33C in The Book of Psalms for Worship

Tune only: Revised Trinity Hymnal 125

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 33

  • Why praise is fitting for the upright (vv. 1-3), namely:
  • The Lord’s character (vv. 4-5)
  • The Lord’s creation (vv. 6-9)
  • The Lord’s providence (vv. 10-12)
  • The Lord’s omniscience (vv. 13-15)
  • The Lord’s omnipotence (vv. 16-19)
  • The Lord’s steadfast love (vv. 20-22)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 33

As the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ shares all the attributes of God that are praised in this psalm. He is upright, faithful, and just; the Creator of the universe (“All things were made through him,” John 1:3); the King of the nations; and the Savior of his people. He is the ultimate manifestation of the “steadfast love” of the Lord (v. 5), and it is he who delivers our souls from death (v. 19). Even as we currently enjoy the blessings of the salvation Jesus has provided, we also look forward to the day when the desire of v. 8 is fulfilled, when “at the name of Jesus every knee [bows], in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). It is superlatively fitting (v. 1) to praise God for the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Applying Psalm 33

  • Who are the righteous (v. 1)? How are they righteous (cf. Heidelberg Catechism LD 23, Q&A 60)?
  • In today’s context, who are the members of the “blessed nation” (v. 12)?
  • Have you ever looked to a “false hope” for salvation, as the psalmist mentions (v. 17)?
  • How does trusting in the Lord make your heart glad (v. 21)?

When the Psalmist says that all our blessedness rests in the fact that the Lord is our God, he points us to the fountain of divine love as the only source that could be desired to make life happy. For God to stoop down to accomplish our salvation, protect us under his wings, provide for our necessities, and help us in all our dangers, hinges entirely on his adoption of us. But lest we should think that these blessings arise from our own efforts and work, David directly teaches us this: only from the fountain of God’s gracious electing love are we counted as the people of God.

—paraphrased from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 33:12

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

“Trinity Psalter Hymnal” Editors Appointed

Hymnological MathAs Danny Olinger reports in the latest issue of New Horizons, Rev. Derrick Vander Meulen (URCNA) and Rev. Dr. Alan Strange (OPC) have transitioned from being chairmen of their respective denominations’ Psalter Hymnal committees to the official co-editors of the new proposed “Trinity Psalter Hymnal.” This news serves as a welcome–but still jarring–reminder that the final vote to approve our denominations’ new songbook will occur within the next year (June 2016), and if approved it may be in production in a year and a half!

I’m beyond excited that we have this opportunity to work together as sister churches on such a worthwhile project, and that it is so close to completion. I do have two questions that keep popping up in my mind, though–whether due to my perspective as a URCNA member rather than an OPC member, or just because I’m a (20-year-old) fuddy-duddy. Neither one is earth-shattering. Neither one makes me want to pull the plug on this excellent project. But I still feel the need to raise them here, if only to start a conversation about them.

Okay, the first one is really pretty insignificant. It’s about the proposed title of the new book: Trinity Psalter Hymnal. I have to say, I’m just not won over.

I get it, I get it. Both of our denominations have longstanding relationships with our previous songbooks–the OPC since 1961 (Trinity Hymnal) and the URCNA/CRC since 1934 (Psalter Hymnal). The new compilation contains a significant amount of material from both–so why not combine the names? Also, the word “Trinity” reminds us that when we sing psalms and hymns, we sing them as Trinitarians. The psalms are sung to the Father, about (and by) the Son, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This is good.

At the same time, we have never felt the need to refer to the Book of Psalms in our Bibles as the “Trinity Book of Psalms,” any more than we would refer to Acts as the “Trinity Book of Acts.” It simply goes without saying that the Psalms are Trinitarian. Plus, between the awkward acronym “TPH” and the near-certainty that pastors in both churches will be messing up the title from the pulpit for at least the next five years, I just can’t see a need for this cumbersome appellation. Maybe it’s just my Dutch tendency to want to call it what it is–a Psalter Hymnal. I’m happy to hear explanations and thoughts from my brothers and sisters on the OPC side of the aisle.

My second concern has to do with the comparative sizes of the psalter and hymnal sections. As of the last count, the psalter contains 279 selections and the hymnal contains 428. With almost two hymns per psalm setting, the new songbook has the potential to give the priority to hymn-singing, detracting from the official position (at least in the URCNA) that psalms are to have the principal place in worship.

I’m not as concerned about this trend as I could be. First, I understand that the OPC comes from a rather hymn-biased worship tradition in producing this book, and that the decision to include all 150 psalms is already a significant change for them. I respect the fact that this transition will take time. Second, even many URCNA churches use supplemental hymnals which push our own hymn-to-psalm ratio far past half-and-half. For that matter, many URC’s use the current Trinity Hymnal themselves!

Nevertheless, if this project is ultimately to serve the church of Christ, we need to see a conscious effort made (from the pew-backs or the pulpit) to re-emphasize our biblical and denominational commitment to the preponderance of psalm-singing. Knowing the two godly men who have assumed the responsibility of editing this book, I hope and pray this will become a reality.


October’s Psalm of the Month: 67B

The tenth installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal


O God, show mercy to us,
And bless us with Your grace;
And cause to shine upon us
The brightness of Your face.

Classical music aficionados may quickly recognize the tune of Psalm 67B (THAXTED) as a famous melody from “Jupiter” in Gustav Holst’s 1919 symphonic suite The Planets. But you don’t have to be a lover of classical music to enjoy singing Psalm 67B. Indeed, since its first appearance in the Book of Psalms for Worship in 2009, this reverent setting has become a favorite in its own denomination, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and beyond.

The choice of tune for Psalm 67B is notable not just historically but also theologically. In Roman mythology, Jupiter was worshiped as the king of the gods and the bringer of jollity. However, as a false god made in man’s image, Jupiter also acted selfishly and capriciously, causing consternation and chaos on the earth. In contrast to pathetic idols, Yahweh, the one true God, is just and true in all his ways (Revelation 15:3). The Lord alone can bring justice and peace through his righteous rule. As you sing Psalm 67, rejoice in God’s unchanging character along with the psalmist: “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth” (Psalm 67:4).

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: Psalm 67C in The Book of Psalms for Worship (text similar to blue Psalter Hymnal #121)

Tune only: Revised Trinity Hymnal 660

Listen to a recording:

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 67

  • Proclaiming God’s gracious salvation (vv. 1,2)
  • Proclaiming God’s guiding justice (v. 4)
  • Proclaiming God’s great provision (vv. 6,7)
  • A missionary refrain (vv. 3, 5, 7)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 67

Psalm 67 brings to mind God’s covenantal promise to Abraham, “[I]n you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Clearly Jesus is the fulfillment of both the Genesis prophecy and this psalm. The Son of God, who was also “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1), has brought salvation to his people and a source of hope to the whole world. This is reason enough for the nations to rejoice—but Psalm 67 still looks forward, too, to the day when every knee in heaven and on earth bows at the name of Jesus and every tongue confesses that he is Lord (Philippians 2:10,11). In Andrew Bonar’s summary, Psalm 67 is “the Prayer of Israel for the blessing which Messiah is to bestow on them, for the sake of earth at large.”

Applying Psalm 67

  • How does God’s way become known on earth (v. 2)?
  • Does God “guide the nations upon earth” today (v. 4)? If so, why do they not rejoice under his rule (cf. Ps. 2)?
  • How can the people of God be sure that he will bless them (v. 6)?

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

September’s Psalm of the Month: 91B

The ninth installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal


To the LORD I’ll say, “My Refuge!”
In my God my trust abides.

This setting of Psalm 91 is beloved by psalm-singing congregations across the globe. The well-known tune HYFRYDOL, composed by Welsh textile worker Rowland Hugh Prichard at the age of nineteen, lends beauty and confidence to the powerful words of this psalm.

In congregational singing, look for ways to emphasize particular words and phrases in the text of Psalm 91B. Consider pausing slightly before the cry, “My Refuge!” in stanza 1, and taking quick breaths anytime a comma appears in the text (“serpents, lions, tread” in stz. 4). Bring out the earnestness of Psalm 91 by varying the volume and intensity of your voice: perhaps draw back on the more contemplative words of the third stanza, then build up again to the climax at the close of stz. 4. Most importantly, reflect on how the Lord has been your own refuge and fortress as you sing, and let personal application breathe added life into this awe-inspiring psalm.

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: Psalm 91A in The Book of Psalms for Singing and The Book of Psalms for Worship, Psalm 91 in the Trinity Psalter

Tune only: Blue Psalter Hymnal 151, Revised Trinity Hymnal 196, 498

Listen to a recording:

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 91

  • The godly one’s words to the Lord (vv. 1,2)
  • Safety from enemies (vv. 3-6)
  • Safety from judgment (vv. 7,8)
  • Safety from plagues (vv. 9,10)
  • Safety from stumbling (vv. 11-13)
  • The Lord’s words to the godly one (vv. 14-16)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 91

Satan twisted the words of Psalm 91:12 when he tempted Jesus to show his authority by casting himself off the pinnacle of the temple (Matt. 4:5-6, Luke 4:9-11). Jesus’ response revealed his wholehearted obedience to his Father: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” But there is more: Christ went to the cross in order to trample the serpent underfoot (v. 13). He suffered the afflictions of Psalm 91 in order to deliver us from our bondage to sin. His life was cut short so that ours could be redeemed. Through his death and resurrection we have been shown God’s salvation (v. 16).

Applying Psalm 91

  • What kinds of snares and pestilences do Christians face today (v. 3)?
  • Why do you deserve to “only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked” (v. 8)?
  • How have you seen God’s protection and deliverance in your life (v. 14)?
  • What do you do when God’s deliverance seems far away despite your cries to him (v. 15; cf. Ps. 22:2)?

Think about these two considerations—first, our own weakness, and second, the roughness, the difficulties, the thorns which lie along our way, along with the stupidity of our hearts and the subtlety of the evil one who lays snares for our destruction—and you will see that the Psalmist is not exaggerating. We could not proceed one step if the angels did not bear us up in their hands in a way beyond the normal course of nature. Through our own fault, we often stumble when we depart from our Head and Leader. But even though God allows this in order to convince us how weak we are in ourselves, he never permits us to be crushed or completely overwhelmed, and then it is virtually as if he put his hand under us and bore us up.

—paraphrased from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 91:12


Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

Behind the Psalter Hymnal (Part 6)

The Big Three (Psalter Hymnals)It’s long past time to wrap up URC Psalmody’s summer series. I head back to Geneva College in a week, and what I imagined as two or three blog posts has grown into a lengthy and multi-faceted series. That’s typical fare for this blog—so today, let me try to provide some concise closing thoughts.

We began by asking this question: Why do we sing out of a Psalter Hymnal? More particularly, why do we sing both psalms and hymns in worship, yet still insist on distinguishing between the two?

To help answer this question historically, I dug up several applicable documents from the early history of the Christian Reformed Church: overtures from different classes in 1928 (here and here) regarding the question of hymn-singing, the “Report on the Hymn Question” from 1930, the Foreword to the first Psalter Hymnal in 1934, and a few other sources. I found plenty of arguments for and against hymn-singing in worship (along with a fair share of weird Dutch expressions). What I didn’t find was a substantial argument on Biblical and historical grounds to justify the introduction of hymns—especially in a denomination that had gotten along fine without them since the Reformation 300 years earlier. I read plenty of reasons why hymns might be permissible in worship, but not much (other than repeated appeals to “New Testament light”) as to why they were needed.

In fact, even the optimistic Psalter Hymnal Committee of 1930 acknowledged some significant dangers with the introduction of hymn-singing. One of them was that the psalms would cease to be sung in worship. Wary of this possibility, the Committee proposed the following principle:

Whereas the Psalms in the Old Testament were purposely given for Public Worship (cf. for instance Ps. 51:1; 52:1; 53:1; etc.) and were used accordingly, and whereas they do not belong to the things set aside by the New Testament, but, to the contrary, their Divine authority and lasting worth is pronouncedly acknowledged in the New Testament (Luke 20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 13:33,35), it must be considered, acknowledged, and maintained by us as a principle founded on the Word of God, that Psalm-singing must always remain an element in our Public Worship.…[A] service without the singing of Psalms would be conflicting with the will of God as revealed in His Word. (pp. 21,22)

Yet after this well-placed word of caution, the committee rushes to add, “Nor does it follow that because of said danger the use of New Testament Church songs must be considered out of the question.” Just because they can be abused doesn’t mean they can’t be used properly, they suggest. Besides, they claim, the “urgent demand” for hymns in Reformed churches cannot be brushed aside as “disloyalty, spiritual weakening, and retrogression.” Once again they call attention to supposed insufficiencies in the psalms: that they speak only “in the Old Testament language of hopefully expectant prophecy, not in the New Testament language of jubilant fulfilment.” And here’s the real whopper: they turn the discussion about hymn-singing on its head by suggesting that an exclusively psalm-singing church is “guilty of neglect in properly caring for Public Worship and for the perfection of the saints, and of slighting a precious gift of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, a psalm-singing church harms its members by not allowing the singing of hymns. That’s a bold claim!

In summary, the committee asked the Synod of 1930 to (1) continue the preparation of a collection of English hymns; and (2) to (attempt to) prevent psalm-singing from fading away by revising the Church Order and setting limits in place on how many hymns could be sung in a worship service. Synod more or less agreed, and the Psalter Hymnal project moved forward. That’s most of the story; for the rest of it, you can refer back to the first Psalter Hymnal’s Foreword.

Got it? Does this synopsis give you an historical glimpse into the reason for the unusual wording in the URCNA’s Church Order—that the psalms “have the principal place,” but hymns “may be sung”? The relationship between psalms and hymns in North American Reformed worship is a long and complicated one. Partly it was a Dutch vs. English and European vs. American issue. Partly it was a Reformed vs. broader evangelical issue. Mostly it was an issue of biblical interpretation. And just because the CRC’s synod officially “settled” the question doesn’t mean it really went away.

Eighty years ago, hymns entered the worship of a denomination that was still deeply divided over the question. That’s the heritage that’s been handed down to us in the URCNA.

I can’t end without noting one additional twist, however. While the 1932 Church Order clearly stated that “the singing of the Psalms in divine worship is a requirement,” the CRC later revised their Church Order to merely state, “The consistory shall see to it that the synodically-approved Bible versions, liturgical forms, and songs are used” (Revised Church Order, 1959, Article 52b). All reference to the primacy of the Psalter was gone! With that revision in mind, it’s important—and encouraging—to note that the URCNA’s Church Order is actually a step back in the direction of principial psalm-singing.

How will the URCNA’s worship change as the years go on? Will our new Psalter Hymnal prove to strengthen our commitment to psalm-singing or dampen it? For the answer to these questions we’ll have to wait on God, pray fervently, and work for the good of the Church. May our worship be pleasing and acceptable in his sight.


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